HACKED OFF

October 2, 2017


Portions of this post are taken from an article by Rob Spiegel of Design News Daily.

You can now anonymously hire a cybercriminal online for as little as six to ten dollars ($6 to $10) per hour, says Rodney Joffe, senior vice president at Neustar, a cybersecurity company. As it becomes easier to engineer such attacks, with costs falling, more businesses are getting targeted. About thirty-two (32) percent of information technology professionals surveyed said DDoS attacks cost their companies $100,000 an hour or more. That percentage is up from thirty (30) percent reported in 2014, according to Neustar’s survey of over 500 high-level IT professionals. The data was released Monday.

Hackers are costing consumers and companies between $375 and $575 billion, annually, according to a study published this past Monday, a number only expected to grow as online information stealing expands with increased Internet use.  This number blows my mind.   I actually had no idea the costs were so great.  Great and increasing.

Online crime is estimated at 0.8 percent of worldwide GDP, with developed countries in regions including North America and Europe losing more than countries in Latin American or Africa, according to the new study published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and funded by cybersecurity firm McAfee.

That amount rivals the amount of worldwide GDP – 0.9 percent – that is spent on managing the narcotics trade. This difference in costs for developed nations may be due to better accounting or transparency in developed nations, as the cost of online crime can be difficult to measure and some companies do not do disclose when they are hacked for fear of damage to their reputations, the report said.

Cyber attacks have changed in recent years. Gone are the days when relatively benign bedroom hackers entered organizations to show off their skills.  No longer is it a guy in the basement of his or her mom’s home eating Doritos.  Attackers now are often sophisticated criminals who target employees who have access to the organization’s jewels. Instead of using blunt force, these savvy criminals use age-old human fallibility to con unwitting employees into handing over the keys to the vault.  Professional criminals like the crime opportunities they’ve found on the internet. It’s far less dangerous than slinging guns. Cybersecurity is getting worse. Criminal gangs have discovered they can carry out crime more effectively over the internet, and there’s less chance of getting caught.   Hacking individual employees is often the easiest way into a company.  One of the cheapest and most effective ways to target an organization is to target its people. Attackers use psychological tricks that have been used throughout mankind.   Using the internet, con tricks can be carried out on a large scale. The criminals do reconnaissance to find out about targets over email. Then they effectively take advantage of key human traits.

One common attack comes as an email impersonating a CEO or supplier. The email looks like it came from your boss or a regular supplier, but it’s actually targeted to a specific professional in the organization.   The email might say, ‘We’ve acquire a new organization. We need to pay them. We need the company’s bank details, and we need to keep this quiet so it won’t affect our stock price.’ The email will go on to say, ‘We only trust you, and you need to do this immediately.’ The email comes from a criminal, using triggers like flattery, saying, ‘You’re the most trusted individual in the organization.’ The criminals play on authority and create the panic of time pressure. Believe it or not, my consulting company has gotten these messages. The most recent being a hack from Experian.

Even long-term attacks can be launched by using this tactic of a CEO message. “A company in Malaysia received kits purporting to come from the CEO.  The users were told the kit needed to be installed. It took months before the company found out it didn’t come from the CEO at all.

Instead of increased technology, some of the new hackers are deploying the classic con moves, playing against personal foibles. They are taking advantage of those base aspects of human nature and how we’re taught to behave.   We have to make sure we have better awareness. For cybersecurity to be engaging, you have to have an impact.

As well as entering the email stream, hackers are identifying the personal interests of victims on social media. Every kind of media is used for attacks. Social media is used to carry out reconnaissance, to identify targets and learn about them.  Users need to see what attackers can find out about them on Twitter or Facebook. The trick hackers use is to pretend they know the target. Then the get closes through personal interaction on social media. You can look at an organization on Twitter and see who works in finance. Then they take a good look across social platform to find those individuals on social media to see if they go to a class each week or if they traveled to Iceland in 1996.  You can put together a spear-phishing program where you say, Hey I went on this trip with you.

CONCLUSIONS:

The counter-action to personal hacking is education and awareness. The company can identify potential weaknesses and potential targets and then change the vulnerable aspects of the corporate environment.  We have to look at the culture of the organization. Those who are under pressure are targets. They don’t have time to study each email they get. We also have to discourage reliance on email.   Hackers also exploit the culture of fear, where people are punished for their mistakes. Those are the people most in danger. We need to create a culture where if someone makes a mistake, they can immediately come forward. The quicker someone comes forward, the quicker we can deal with it.

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IF

September 12, 2017


Like most Americans, I have been greatly saddened by the destruction caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  My heart certainly goes out to all of those who have lost love ones, livelihood, and property.  Let’s quickly take a look at several facts relative to each to see if we can get some idea as to the rebuilding efforts and challenges that may lie ahead.

HARVEY:

  • Category 4 storm that creating $180.00 billion dollars in damage
  • Affected thirteen (13) million people.
  • Will require more than $125.00 billion in Federal relief.
  • As of 12 September, the death toll has reached seventy (70) people.
  • Two feet of rain fell in the first twenty-four (24) hours. Flooding forced 39,000 people out of their homes and into shelters. Dallas created a mega-shelter for 5,000 evacuees out of its main convention center.
  • Total rainfall hit 51.88 inches in Cedar Bayou on the outskirts of Houston. That’s a record for a single storm in the continental United States. “Harvey Broke a National Record Rainfall for a Single Tropical Storm,” Vox, August 30, 2017. Much of Harvey’s damage came from massive rainfall. It created a 1-in-1,000-year flood event. That means nothing of that size has happened within modern recorded history. Flooding covered southeast Texas the size of the state of New Jersey. Thirty inches of rain fell on an area near the coast the size of the state of Maryland. (Source: “Harvey Is a 1,000-year Flood Unprecedented in Scale,” The Washington Post, August 31, 2017.)
  • Hurricane Harvey damaged 203,000 homes, of which 12,700 were destroyed. There were 507,000 people who registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency delivered 80 tractor-trailer loads of emergency supplies.
  • Federal forces rescued 10,000 people who were trapped in their homes or on flooded highways.
  • In the Gulf area, 1 million vehicles were ruined beyond repair, according to auto data firm Black Book. That includes 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles owned by individuals. (Source: “Harvey May Have Wrecked 1 Million Cars and Trucks,” USA Today, August 31, 2017.

IRMA:

The overall damage from hurricane Irene is yet to be determined but it obviously is in the billions.  Here is what we know to date.

  • Reports indicate that Irma was directly responsible for 49 deaths: five (5) in the Dominican Republic, three (3) in Haiti, and forty-one (41) in the United States. Surprisingly, there were no reported deaths in the Bahamas, where Irene was the strongest.
  • The hurricane’s strongest sustained winds, at 185 mph, blew for more than 65 consecutive hours, something no other tropical cyclone has done in the modern satellite era, which began 50 years ago, according to Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.
  • Irma’s tropical-storm-force winds and heavy rains resulted in power outages for up to three (3) million U.S. residents.
  • Irma also produced copious amounts of rain in Puerto Rico, with a maximum of 22.05 inches in Gurabo Abajo, which caused major flooding in the northeastern portion of the island.
  • In the United States, the Insurances Services Office reported that the hurricane caused an estimated $4.3 billion in losses. Doubling this figure in an attempt to account for uninsured losses results in an estimated total of $8.6 billion. Based on National Flood Insurance Program data, it is estimated that Irene caused $7.2 billion in losses from inland flooding and storm surge. Using these figures, the total damage estimate is $15.8 billion.
  • With Irma’s projected path fixed over much of the United States East Coast, over 65 million people from the Carolinas to northern New England were estimated to be at risk.
  • The storm paralleled offshore of Hispaniola, continuing to slowly intensify in the process. Shortly before making four landfalls in the Bahamas, Irene peaked as a 120 mph (190 km/h) Category 3 hurricane.
  • More 6.2 million homes in Florida are without power and scores of people have been rescued. More than 160,000 people are thought to be waiting out the storm in shelters across the state.
  • Irma also has one of the lowest pressures, at 914 millibars, ever recorded in a storm, according to Blake.
  • Irma is also one of three hurricanes now formed in the Atlantic Ocean, something that has not happened in seven years. It is followed by Hurricane Jose, which was upgraded to Category 3 yesterday, though it is unclear whether that storm will hit the United States.
  • Irma is over four (400) hundred miles across.

As I mentioned, most of the data relative to lives lost and the cost of damage are still much too early to announce for Irma.  The good news is–Americans are extremely resilient, hard-working and with great supports systems.  Those effected will rebuild.

One of my favorite writers is Rudyard Kipling. His poem IF defines and describes the American people and the American spirit much better than I ever could.

 IF

If you can keep your head when all about you

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


The publication EfficientGov indicates the following: “The opioid crisis is creating a workforce epidemic leading to labor shortage and workplace safety and performance challenges.”

Opioid-related deaths have reached an all-time high in the United States. More than 47,000 people died in 2014, and the numbers are rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month released prescribing guidelines to help primary care physicians safely treat chronic pain while reducing opioid dependency and abuse. Given that the guidelines are not binding, how will the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services make sure they make a difference? What can payers and providers do to encourage a countrywide culture shift?

The opioid epidemic is also having widespread effects on many industries relative to labor shortages, workplace safety and worker performance.  Managers and owners are trying to figure out methods to deal with drug-addicted workers and job applicants.  HR managers cite the opioid crisis as one of their biggest challenges. Applicants are unwilling or unable to pass drug tests, employees are increasingly showing signs of addiction on the job and there are workers with opioid prescriptions having significant performance problems.

Let’s take a very quick look at only three employers and what they say about the crisis.

  • Clyde McClellan used to require a drug test before people could work at his Ohio pottery company, which produces 2,500 hand-cast coffee mugs a day for Starbucks and others. Now, he skips the tests and finds it more efficient to flat-out ask applicants: “What are you on?”
  • At Homer Laughlin China, a company that makes a colorful line of dishware known as Fiesta and employs 850 at a sprawling complex in Newell, W.V., up to half of applicants either fail or refuse to take mandatory pre-employment drug screens, said company president Liz McIlvain. “The drugs are so cheap and they’re so easily accessible,” McIlvain, a fourth-generation owner of the company, said. “We have a horrible problem here.”
  • “That is really the battlefield for us right now,” said Markus Dietrich,global manager of employee assistance and work-life services at chemical giant DuPont, which employs 46,000 worldwide.

As you might suspect, the epidemic is having a devastating effect on companies — large and small — and their ability to stay competitive. Managers and owners across the country are at a loss in how to deal with addicted workers and potential workers, calling the issue one of the biggest problems they face. Applicants are increasingly unwilling or unable to pass drug tests; then there are those who pass only to show signs of addiction once employed. Even more confounding: how to respond to employees who have a legitimate prescription for opioids but whose performance slips.  There are those individuals who have a need for pain-killers and to deny them would be difficult, but how do you deal with this if you are a manager and fear issues and potential law suites when there is over use?

The issue is amplifying labor shortages in industries like trucking, which has had difficulty for the last six (6) years finding qualified workers and drivers.  It is also pushing employers to broaden their job searches, recruiting people from greater distances when roles can’t be filled with local workers. At stake is not only safety and productivity within companies — but the need for humans altogether, with some manufacturers claiming opioids force them to automate work faster.

One corporate manager said: “You’re going to see manufacturing jobs slowly going away for, if nothing else, that reason alone.   “It’s getting worse, not better.”

Economists have noticed also. In Congressional testimony earlier this month, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen related opioid use to a decline in the labor participation rate. The past three Fed surveys on the economy, known as the Beige Book, explicitly mentioned employers’ struggles in finding applicants to pass drug tests as a barrier to hiring. The surveys, snapshots of economic conditions in the Fed’s twelve (12) districts, don’t mention the type of drugs used.   A Congressional hearing in June of this year focused on opioids and their economic consequences, Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine estimated that forty (40) percent of applicants in the state either failed or refused a drug test. This prevents people from operating machinery, driving a truck or getting a job managing a McDonald’s, he said.

OK, what should a manufacturer do to lessen or hopefully eliminate the problem?  There have been put forth several suggestions, as follows:

Policy Option 1: Medical Education– Opioid education is crucial at all levels, from medical school and residency, through continuing education; and must involve primary care, specialists, mental health providers, pharmacies, emergency departments, clinics and patients. The push to increase opioid education must come from medical schools, academic medical centers, accrediting organizations and possibly state legislatures.

Policy Option 2: Continuing Medical Education– Emphasize the importance of continuing medical education (CME) for practicing physicians. CME can be strengthened by incorporating the new CDC guidelines, and physicians should learn when and how to safely prescribe these drugs and how to handle patients with drug-seeking behavior.

Policy Option 3: Public Education– Emphasize the need to address patient demand, not just physician supply, for opioids. It compared the necessary education to the campaign to reduce demand for antibiotics. The public needs to learn about the harms as well as the benefits of these powerful painkillers, and patients must understand that their pain can be treated with less-dangerous medications, or nonpharmacological interventions like physical therapy or acupuncture. Such education could be spearheaded by various physician associations and advocacy groups, with support from government agencies and officials at HHS and elsewhere.

Policy Option 4: Removing Perverse Incentives and Payment Barriers– Prescribing decisions are influenced by patient satisfaction surveys and insurance reimbursement practices, participants said. Patient satisfaction surveys are perceived — not necessarily accurately — as making it harder for physicians to say “no” to patients who are seeking opioids. Long-standing insurance practices, such as allowing only one pain prescription to be filled a month, are also encouraging doctors to prescribe more pills than a patient is likely to need — adding to the risk of overuse, as well as chance of theft, sale or other diversion of leftover drugs.

Policy Option 5: Solutions through Technology– Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) and Electronic Health Records (EHR) could be important tools in preventing opioid addiction, but several barriers stand in the way. The PDMP data are incomplete; for instance, a physician in Washington, D.C., can’t see whether a patient is also obtaining drugs in Maryland or Virginia. The records are not user friendly; and they need to be integrated into EHRs so doctors can access them both — without additional costs piled on by the vendors. It could be helpful if certain guidelines, like defaults for dosing and prescribing, were baked into the electronic records.

Policy Option 6: Access to addiction treatment and reducing stigma—There is a need to change how the country thinks about — and talks about — addiction and mental illness. Substance abuse treatment suffers when people with addiction are treated as criminals or deviants. Instead, substance abuse disorder should be treated as an illness, participants recommended. High deductibles in health plans, including Obamacare exchange plans, create another barrier to substance abuse treatment.

CONCLUSIONS:  I don’t really know how we got here but we are a country with a very very “deep bench”.  We know how to do things, so let’s put all of our resources together to solve this very troublesome problem.

WHO IS MITCH RAPP

June 7, 2017


I have had the great opportunity to travel to several countries over my not-too-short-lifetime.  Most of that travel has been for business purposes but even though you are engaged for long periods of time you do pick up various indications relative to culture, even pop culture.  In my opinion, we here in the United States and the western world have by far the very best heroes.   Literature and certainly the entertainment professions are replete with men and women selected to “save us all”.  I’m not too sure if this is good or bad.  Maybe we are looking for that “white knight” to ride in and solve all of our problems then ride off leaving us happy and forever content.  I personally feel that white knight may be found by looking in a mirror.

At any rate, the list below is just a partial list of “heroes” we look for to write all wrongs, deliver us from alien invaders, purge our country from evil—you get the picture.

  • James Bond
  • Jason Bourne
  • John Wick
  • Neo and Morpheus
  • Katniss Everdeen
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Philip Marlowe
  • Ripley
  • Wonder Woman
  • Captain America
  • Iron Man
  • Han Solo
  • Luke Skywalker
  • Rocky Balboa
  • Harry Potter
  • The Terminator
  • Jimmy Lee Swagger
  • Jack Reacher
  • Mitch Rapp

I would like to concentrate on the last one—Mitch Rapp.  Mr. Vince Flynn created Mitch Rapp and penned the following action-packed novels with him as the main character.

  • American Assassin (Mitch Rapp #1) (2010) ​ ISBN 9781416595182
  • Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp #2) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595205
  • Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp #3) (1999) ​ ISBN 0671023195
  • The Third Option (Mitch Rapp #4) (2000) ​ ISBN 0671047310
  • Separation of Power (Mitch Rapp #5) (2001) ISBN 0671047337
  • Executive Power (Mitch Rapp #6) (2002) ​ ISBN 0743453956
  • Memorial Day (Mitch Rapp #7) (2004) ​ ISBN 0743453972
  • Consent to Kill (Mitch Rapp #8) (2005) ​ ISBN 0743270363
  • Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp #9) (2006) ​ ISBN 0743270371
  • Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp #10) (2007) ​ ISBN 9780743270410
  • Extreme Measures (Mitch Rapp #11) (2008) ​ ISBN 9781416599395
  • Pursuit of Honor (Mitch Rapp #12) (2009) ​ ISBN 978141659516
  • The Last Man (Mitch Rapp #13) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595212
  • The Survivor (Mitch Rapp #14) (2015) ​ ISBN 9781476783451
  • Order To Kill (Mitch Rapp #15) (2016) ​ ISBN 9781476783482
  • Enemy Of The State (Mitch Rapp #16) (2017) ​ ISBN 9781476783512
  • Term Limits (not part of Mitch Rapp series) (1997) ​ ISBN 0671023179

I have read most of Mr. Flynn’s novels involving Rapp and I can tell you he is a most interesting man.

Mitch Rapp attended Syracuse University, where he majored in international business and minored in French. He attended Syracuse on a lacrosse scholarship and became an All-American due to his amazing speed and aggressive style of play. Rapp was also offered a scholarship by the University of North Carolina, but turned that down because his high school sweetheart Maureen was attending Syracuse.  Rapp had known Maureen since he was sixteen years old.  She was tragically killed in the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  One of thirty-five (35) Syracuse students died that day while returning from a semester overseas.

Nearly a year after Maureen’s death, Rapp was recruited into the CIA by Irene Kennedy. He began training the week after graduating from Syracuse. Only twenty-three years old at the time, Rapp did not go through the standard CIA training program at “The Farm,” outside Williamsburg, Virginia. Instead, for a year straight he was shuttled from one location to the next, sometimes spending a week, sometimes a month. The bulk of the training was handled by Stan Hurley, a former CIA operative, who taught him “how to shoot, stab, blow things up, and even kill with his bare hands.” In other words, he was schooled in firearms and marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, and explosives. Endurance was stressed. There were long swims and even longer runs. Between all the heavy lifting, they worked on his foreign language skills. Since he had minored in French at Syracuse, within a month at the CIA he was fluent in the language. He was then taught Arabic and Persian and could passably speak Urdu and Pashto. He also spoke German and Italian. He is ambidextrous, but naturally left-handed.

Rapp then became an operative of the Orion Team, a highly secretive organization supported by the CIA but definitely outside the Agency. It is funded by money diverted from congressionally funded programs. The job of the Orion Team in a nutshell is to take the war to the terrorists. It was formed in response to the Lockerbie disaster by the then CIA director of operations Thomas Stansfield. The unit operates in secret, independent, national security apparatus and circumvents the leviathan of politics that bypasses impediments like the executive order banning assassinations. The team is headed by Rapp’s recruiter, Irene Kennedy, whose official role is as director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.

Rapp has been the Orion Team’s star operative almost from the day he started and has been honed into the most effective counterterrorism operative in America’s arsenal. He’s spent significant amounts of time in Europe, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia collecting intelligence and when the situation called for it, dealing with threats in a more final manner.

Officially, Rapp has nothing to do with the U.S. government; rather, he is referred to in the business as a private contractor. Rapp lives a life completely separate from the Agency. His cover is that of a successful entrepreneur. With the help of the CIA, he runs a small computer consulting business on the side that just happens to do a fair amount of international business, which gives him the cover to travel frequently. To keep things legitimate, Rapp often does indeed conduct business while abroad.

One of Rapp’s aliases is Mitch Kruse. In the special ops community, he is often known only by his call sign, “Iron Man” after the annual Ironman Triathlon in which he has participated on several occasions and has twice won. His only remaining family is his brother, Steven Rapp, a millionaire financial genius. Mitch and Steven grew up in McLean, Virginia.

Throughout the books, Rapp works with several special operations units including Navy SEALs and DEVGRUDelta ForceAir Force Special Operations Command, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). He also has close ties with “SEAL Demolition and Salvage Corporation”, a private military company specializing in underwater salvage such as getting rid of debris for ports and shipyards and training law enforcement divers, but whose employees also work from time to time as freelance operatives for the CIA. The company is owned and operated by Scott Coleman, former commanding officer of SEAL Team Six and friend of Rapp.

Flynn has crafted a remarkably complex character and has the ability to put that character in situations you would expect a “normal individual” to die from.  He has the uncanny ability to weave a story line that has one surprise after another.  This is truly a remarkable feat.  I love his books for this reason and one more—he is a master craftsman with words.  Truly gifted.

One caution—read “The American Assassin” first.  This book gives you the background or Rapp beginning with his days at Syracuse.  It takes you through all of the training used to produce a lethal weapon.  I strongly recommend the Mitch Rapp series for your summer reading.

RISE OF THE MACHINES

March 20, 2017


Movie making today is truly remarkable.  To me, one of the very best parts is animation created by computer graphics.  I’ve attended “B” movies just to see the graphic displays created by talented programmers.  The “Terminator” series, at least the first movie in that series, really captures the creative essence of graphic design technology.  I won’t replay the movie for you but, the “terminator” goes back in time to carry out its prime directive—Kill John Conner.  The terminator, a robotic humanoid, has decision-making capability as well as human-like mobility that allows the plot to unfold.  Artificial intelligence or AI is a fascinating technology many companies are working on today.  Let’s get a proper definition of AI as follows:

“the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

Question:  Are Siri, Cortana, and Alexa eventually going to be more literate than humans? Anyone excited about the recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning should also be concerned about human literacy as well. That’s according to Protect Literacy , a global campaign, backed by education company Pearson, aimed at creating awareness and fighting against illiteracy.

Project Literacy, which has been raising awareness for its cause at SXSW 2017, recently released a report, “ 2027: Human vs. Machine Literacy ,” that projects machines powered by AI and voice recognition will surpass the literacy levels of one in seven American adults in the next ten (10) years. “While these systems currently have a much shallower understanding of language than people do, they can already perform tasks similar to simple text search task…exceeding the abilities of millions of people who are nonliterate,” Kate James, Project Literacy spokesperson and Chief Corporate Affairs and Global Marketing Officer at Pearson, wrote in the report. In light of this the organization is calling for “society to commit to upgrading its people at the same rate as upgrading its technology, so that by 2030 no child is born at risk of poor literacy.”  (I would invite you to re-read this statement and shudder in your boots as I did.)

While the past twenty-five (25) years have seen disappointing progress in U.S. literacy, there have been huge gains in linguistic performance by a totally different type of actor – computers. Dramatic advances in natural language processing (Hirschberg and Manning, 2015) have led to the rise of language technologies like search engines and machine translation that “read” text and produce answers or translations that are useful for people. While these systems currently have a much shallower understanding of language than people do, they can already perform tasks similar to the simple text search task above – exceeding the abilities of millions of people who are nonliterate.

According to the National National Centre for Education Statistics machine literacy has already exceeded the literacy abilities of the estimated three percent (3%) of non-literate adults in the US.

Comparing demographic data from the Global Developer Population and Demographic Study 2016 v2 and the 2015 Digest of Education Statistics finds there are more software engineers in the U.S. than school teachers, “We are focusing so much on teaching algorithms and AI to be better at language that we are forgetting that fifty percent (50%)  of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level,” Project Literacy said in a statement.  I retired from General Electric Appliances.   Each engineer was required to write, or at least the first draft, of the Use and Care Manuals for specific cooking products.  We were instructed to 1.) Use plenty of graphic examples and 2.) Write for a fifth-grade audience.  Even with that, we know from experience that many consumers never use and have no intention of reading their Use and Care Manual.  With this being the case, many of the truly cool features are never used.  They may as well buy the most basic product.

Research done by Business Insider reveals that thirty-two (32) million Americans cannot currently read a road sign. Yet at the same time there are ten (10) million self-driving cars predicted to be on the roads by 2020. (One could argue this will further eliminate the need for literacy, but that is debatable.)  If we look at literacy rates for the top ten (10) countries on our planet we see the following:

Citing research from Venture Scanner , Project Literacy found that in 2015 investment in AI technologies, including natural language processing, speech recognition, and image recognition, reached $47.2 billion. Meanwhile, data on US government spending shows that the 2017 U.S. Federal Education Budget for schools (pre-primary through secondary school) is $40.4 billion.  I’m not too sure funding for education always goes to benefit students education. In other words, throwing more money at this problem may not always provide desired results, but there is no doubt, funding for AI will only increase.

“Human literacy levels have stalled since 2000. At any time, this would be a cause for concern, when one in ten people worldwide…still cannot read a road sign, a voting form, or a medicine label,” James wrote in the report. “In popular discussion about advances in artificial intelligence, it is easy

CONCLUSION:  AI will only continue to advance and there will come a time when robotic systems will be programmed with basic decision-making skills.  To me, this is not only fascinating but more than a little scary.

THE NEXT FIVE (5) YEARS

February 15, 2017


As you well know, there are many projections relative to economies, stock market, sports teams, entertainment, politics, technology, etc.   People the world over have given their projections for what might happen in 2017.  The world of computing technology is absolutely no different.  Certain information for this post is taken from the publication “COMPUTER.org/computer” web site.  These guys are pretty good at projections and have been correct multiple times over the past two decades.  They take their information from the IEEE.

The IEEE Computer Society is the world’s leading membership organization dedicated to computer science and technology. Serving more than 60,000 members, the IEEE Computer Society is the trusted information, networking, and career-development source for a global community of technology leaders that includes researchers, educators, software engineers, IT professionals, employers, and students.  In addition to conferences and publishing, the IEEE Computer Society is a leader in professional education and training, and has forged development and provider partnerships with major institutions and corporations internationally. These rich, self-selected, and self-paced programs help companies improve the quality of their technical staff and attract top talent while reducing costs.

With these credentials, you might expect them to be on the cutting edge of computer technology and development and be ahead of the curve as far as computer technology projections.  Let’s take a look.  Some of this absolutely blows me away.

human-brain-interface

This effort first started within the medical profession and is continuing as research progresses.  It’s taken time but after more than a decade of engineering work, researchers at Brown University and a Utah company, Blackrock Microsystems, have commercialized a wireless device that can be attached to a person’s skull and transmit via radio thought commands collected from a brain implant. Blackrock says it will seek clearance for the system from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so that the mental remote control can be tested in volunteers, possibly as soon as this year.

The device was developed by a consortium, called BrainGate, which is based at Brown and was among the first to place implants in the brains of paralyzed people and show that electrical signals emitted by neurons inside the cortex could be recorded, then used to steer a wheelchair or direct a robotic arm (see “Implanting Hope”).

A major limit to these provocative experiments has been that patients can only use the prosthetic with the help of a crew of laboratory assistants. The brain signals are collected through a cable screwed into a port on their skull, then fed along wires to a bulky rack of signal processors. “Using this in the home setting is inconceivable or impractical when you are tethered to a bunch of electronics,” says Arto Nurmikko, the Brown professor of engineering who led the design and fabrication of the wireless system.

capabilities-hardware-projection

Unless you have been living in a tree house for the last twenty years you know digital security is a huge problem.  IT professionals and companies writing code will definitely continue working on how to make our digital world more secure.  That is a given.

exascale

We can forget Moor’s Law which refers to an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. He noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention.  Moore’s law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. Although the pace has slowed, the number of transistors per square inch has since doubled approximately every 18 months. This is used as the current definition of Moore’s law.  We are well beyond that with processing speed literally progressing at “warp six”.

non-volitile-memory

If you are an old guy like me, you can remember when computer memory costs an arm and a leg.  Take a look at the JPEG below and you get an idea as to how memory costs has decreased over the years.

hard-drive-cost-per-gbyte

As you can see, costs have dropped remarkably over the years.

photonics

texts-for-photonoics

power-conservative-multicores

text-for-power-conservative-multicores

CONCLUSION:

If you combine the above predictions with 1.) Big Data, 2.) Internet of Things (IoT), 3.) Wearable Technology, 4.) Manufacturing 4.0, 5.) Biometrics, and other fast-moving technologies you have a world in which “only the adventurous thrive”.  If you do not like change, I recommend you enroll in a monastery.  You will not survive gracefully without technology on the rampage. Just a thought.

INTELLIGENT FLEET SOLUTIONS

October 16, 2016


Ever been on an Interstate?  Ever travel those highways WITHOUT seeing one of the “big rigs”?  I don’t think so. I have a commute every day on Interstate 75 and even at 0530 hours the heavy-duty truck traffic is significant.  As I travel that route, I pass two rest stops dedicated solely for drivers needing to take a break.  They are always full; lights on, engines running. (More about that later.)

Let’s take a very quick look at transportation in the United States to get calibrated as to the scope and breadth of the transportation industry. (NOTE: The following information comes from TruckInfo.net.)

  • How big is the trucking industry?
    The trucking companies, warehouses and private sector in the U.S. employs an estimated 8.9 million people employed in trucking-related jobs; nearly 3.5 million were truck drivers. Of this figure UPS employs 60,000 workers and 9% are owner operators.  LTL shippers account for around 13.6 percent of America’s trucking sector.
  • How many trucks operate in the U.S.?
    Estimates of 15.5 million trucks operate in the U.S.  Of this figure 2 million are tractor trailers.
  • How many truckers are there?
    It is an estimated over 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S.  Of that one in nine are independent, a majority of which are owner operators. Canada has in excess of 250,000 truck drivers.
  • How many trucking companies are there in the U.S.?
    Estimates of 1.2 million companies in the U.S. Of that figure 97% operate 20 or fewer while 90% operate 6 or fewer trucks.
  • How many miles does the transportation industry transports good in a year?
    In 2006 the transportation industry logged 432.9 billion miles. Class 8 trucks accounted for 139.3 billion of those miles, up from 130.5 billion in 2005
  • What is the volume of goods transported by the trucking industry?
    The United States economy depends on trucks to deliver nearly 70 percent of all freight transported annually in the U.S., accounting for $671 billion worth of manufactured and retail goods transported by truck in the U.S. alone. Add $295 billion in truck trade with Canada and $195.6 billion in truck trade with Mexico.

As you can see, the transportation industry, moving products from point “A” to point “B” by truck, is HUGE—absolutely HUGE.    With this being the case, our country has established goals to improving gas mileage for passenger cars, light trucks and heavy-duty trucks.  These goals are dedicated to improving gas mileage but also goals to reduce emissions.  Let’s take a look.

Passenger Car and Light Truck Standards for 2017 and beyond

In 2012, NHTSA established final passenger car and light truck CAFE standards for model years 2017-2021, which the agency projects will require in model year 2021, on average, a combined fleet-wide fuel economy of 40.3-41.0 mpg. As part of the same rulemaking action, EPA issued GHG standards, which are harmonized with NHTSA’s fuel economy standards that are projected to require 163 grams/mile of carbon dioxide (CO2) in model year 2025.  EPA will reexamine the GHG standards for model years 2022-2025 and NHTSA will set new CAFE standards for those model years in the next couple of years, based on the best available information at that time.

The Big Rigs

On June 19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced major increases for fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks. Part of President Obama’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan, Phase 2 of the Heavy-Duty National Program tightens emission standards for heavy-duty trucks and includes big rigs, delivery vehicles, dump trucks and buses.  The updated efficiency rule for trucks joins a growing list of fuel efficiency measures, including the President’s 2012 doubling of fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks (CAFE standards), as well as expected aircraft rules, following the agency’s finding that aircraft emissions endanger human health.

While the miles per gallon (mpg) rating of cars and light duty trucks has increased over the last decade or so, the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks has held at 5 mpg for over four decades. Conversely, the average passenger vehicle reached 24 mpg in 2010.  Under CAFE, cars and light duty trucks are set to reach 54.5 MPG by 2025. 

According to EPA, heavy-duty trucks are the fastest growing emissions segment of the U.S. transportation sector; they are currently responsible for twenty percent (20%) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while comprising just four percent (4%) of on-road vehicles.  Heavy duty trucks power the consumer economy, carrying seventy percent (70%) of all U.S. freight – weighing in at 10 billion tons of everything from food to electronics, building materials, clothes and other consumer goods.

As you can see, the goals are not only reduction in fuel usage but improvements in emissions.  There are companies and programs dedicated to meeting these goals.  The reason for this post is to indicate that people and companies are working to provide answers; solving problems; providing value-added to our environment and even our way of life. One such company is Intelligent Fleet Solutions.

The big questions is, how do we meet these goals?  The burden is up to companies manufacturing the engines and design of the cabs and trailers.  Alternate fuels are one answer; i.e. using CNG (compressed natural gas), biofuels, hydrogen, etc. but maybe not the entire answer.

One manner in which these goals may be met is reducing engine idle while trucks are at rest.  The following chart will explain the dilemma and one target for reduction in petroleum consumption.

gas-usage-at-idle

This chart shows petroleum consumption of various vehicles at idle.  Notice: diesel engine consumption can use up to 1.00 gallon per hour when idling.  Question, can we lessen this consumption?

Companies designing and manufacturing devices to contribute to this effort are being introduced helping to drive us towards meeting really tough café goals.  One such company is Intelligent Fleet Solutions. Let’s take a look.

INTELLIGENT FLEET SOLUTIONS

What if the vehicle you drive could automatically alter its performance by doing the following?

  • Governing maximum speed in Class 8 vehicles
  • Optimizing acceleration
  • Providing for a more efficient cruise

If you look carefully at the following brochure you will see a device that provides all three.  The DERIVE program is downloaded into your vehicle’s ECM (Electronic Control Module) allowing control from generic to specific.  You are in control.  The program is contained in a hand-held pendent that “jacks” into the same receptacle used to reset your check engine light.  Heavy-duty trucks may have another port for this pendent but the same process is used.  The great part—the software is quick loading and low cost.  A driver or owner has a payback considerably less one year.  My friend Amy Dobrikova is an approved reseller for DERIVE technologies. Please contact her for further information at 765-617-8614.

derive

derive-2

CONCLUSIONS:  Intelligent Fleet Solutions performs a great service in helping to preserve non-renewable fossil fuels AND lessening or eliminating harmful effluent from our environment.  “Solutions” recognizes the fact that “all hands must be on deck” to solve emission problems and conserve remaining petroleum supplies.  This company embodies the fact that America is still THE country in which technology is applied to solve problems and insure specific goals are met.  Intelligent Fleet Solutions is a great contributor to that effort.  Check them out at intelligent-fleet.com

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